NCAA Tournament: 2021 March Madness Bracket Preview predictions, how to watch

The NCAA Tournament selection committee will release the 2021 Bracket Preview this weekend. Here’s how to watch and our predictions.

The 2021 NCAA Tournament is quickly approaching with Selection Sunday looming a little over a month away. In preparation of building the field soon, the selection committee is meeting this week and will release its Top 16 in the “Bracket Preview” this weekend.

This will be the NCAA’s fifth annual “Bracket Preview” and it is always exciting to get a peek into what is going on behind the scenes. Bracketologists can only do so much when it comes to projecting the field.

BRACKETOLOGY: Full field of 68
BUBBLE WATCH: Where at-large candidates stand
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Where can I watch the March Madness Bracket Preview?

  • Date: Saturday, Feb. 13
  • Time: 12:30 p.m. ET
  • TV: CBS

This will be the first look into how the committee is approaching what has obviously been a weird year. Will there be less emphasis on road wins? More credit given to advanced quality metrics such as KenPom, BPI, and Sagarin? While it certainly feels obvious who the Top 2 overall seeds will be with Baylor and Gonzaga (in whichever order), there are plenty of other unknowns.

With that said, let’s take a stab at predicting how the Selection Committee might be thinking. Below are my predictions for the Top 16, as well as eight others that could be under consideration to hear their names called.

No. 1 seeds: Gonzaga, Baylor, Michigan, Ohio State

Baylor and Gonzaga are the clear headliners on the No. 1 seed line, and it is practically a guarantee that the committee will agree with me here. The big decision will be which team shows up as the No. 1 overall seed in this early reveal. Right now, I would give a slight edge to Gonzaga in this department. The Bulldogs rank better in all metrics except NET and BPI while holding one more Q1 and one more Q2 win. They are also 5-0 in Q1A as opposed to Baylor’s 3-0.

My other two No. 1 seed spots are occupied by Big Ten schools in Michigan and Ohio State. The Wolverines not played since Jan. 22 but have been rolling all season long. They rank third in most metrics and boast a fair number of quality wins (3-1 Q1) with only one loss. Ohio State slides into the last spot here due to leading the nation in Q1 wins. The Buckeyes are 8-3 in those games (4-1 in Q1A). They are not a lock to appear on the top line this weekend but they are my prediction to be the fourth No. 1 seed.

No. 2 seeds: Illinois, Alabama, Villanova, Houston

The No. 2 seed line features a bevy of teams all vying for that last spot on the top line along with Ohio State. Starting with another Big Ten team, Illinois has greatly improved its resume over the last few weeks. The Illini are 10-5 in Q1+2 games this season and only one metric falls out of the Top 10. Though they have suffered five losses this season, they are a contender for a No. 1 seed and it would be hard to envision them falling to a No. 3.

Speaking of teams that have improved their resumes, Alabama has been scorching over the last two months. With a fast pace and an elite defense, the Tide have been wreaking havoc on opponents. They are 10-4 in Q1+2 games and are ranked in the Top 15 of all metrics. A home loss to Western Kentucky sits in Q3 for the moment but has aged better as of late. ‘Bama is in a similar position to Illinois.

Villanova and Houston have both largely lived up to expectations this season as Top 10 squads but neither hold the elite wins necessary to land on the No. 1 seed line. They have two Q1 wins apiece and have both suffered two losses. The Wildcats and Cougars belong as No. 2 seeds and quality metrics agree — neither team ranks lower than No. 8 in any of KenPom, BPI or Sagarin.

No. 3 seeds: Virginia, West Virginia, Tennessee, Iowa

The No. 3 line all consists of teams that were ranked in the preseason Top 25 and have all performed to expectations. Virginia struggled a bit out of the gates with an early loss to San Francisco but has since settled into being a highly regarded team. The Cavaliers only have three Q1 wins but are ranked in the Top 10 in every metric except KPI. They also only have three total losses, none of which come from the bottom two quadrants.

West Virginia has a straightforward, Top 16-worthy resume. The Mountaineers are 5-5 in Q1 as they have shown the ability to beat very good teams. They also do not have a single loss in any other quadrant and are ranked in the Top 17 in all metrics. I have them on my No. 3 line, and they should definitely hear their name called on Saturday.

Tennessee might be a tad high as my third No. 3 seed but its balance of metrics is formidable. The Volunteers rank in the Top 16 in every metric and have a solid all-around resume as well. They are a respectable 4-3 in Q1 games with a pair of elite wins over Colorado (NET 12) and at Missouri (NET 34).

Iowa has the trickiest resume of this group to manage. The Hawkeyes rank extremely well in the NET (8) and quality metrics (4.7 average) but resume numbers are not as kind. They are ranked 38th in KPI and 21st in SOR this season while also being below .500 (4-5) in Q1 games. Iowa has “quantity of quality” and its elite efficiency measures keep it on the No. 3 line.

No. 4 seeds: Texas, Missouri, Texas Tech, Wisconsin

None of these projected No. 4 seeds are locks to hear their names called Saturday. All have flaws in their resumes that could be picked apart in favor of other teams (more on those in a second).

Leading off with Texas, this is a squad that was safely on the No. 1 seed line for bracketologists across the country just a few weeks ago. The Longhorns’ hot start is still reflected on their resume, but so are their four recent losses. Shaka Smart’s group is ranked 21st or better in all metrics and is 6-5 in Q1+2 games. Road wins over West Virginia and Kansas are helping buoy a high placement.

Missouri is next with seemingly the opposite resume of Iowa’s. The Tigers rank fourth in KPI and eighth in SOR, indicating that they should not only be a lock for the Bracket Preview and should be higher than a No. 4 seed. Their 4-1 record in Q1A games also tells that truth as Missouri has collected plenty of elite wins. With that said, the Tigers are sub-30 in NET, BPI, KenPom and Sagarin.

Texas Tech did not play a very difficult nonconference schedule but has made up for it by proving capable of beating excellent squads (three Q1A wins). Resume metrics do not love the Red Raiders much due to the weak nonconference schedule strength, but quality metrics agree that this team is very strong. Chris Beard may or may not hear his team called during the Bracket Preview but Texas Tech is trending in the right direction considering its SOS is getting better and better with each game played.

Wisconsin is under .500 in Q1 (3-4) and has generally struggled when pitted against stronger teams. The Badgers also have sub-16 marks in NET, KPI and SOR. Quality metrics do like the Badgers quite a bit and they are still 5-2 in Q2 with zero bad losses. They are on the fringe of the Bracket Preview or being viewed as a No. 5 seed.

Who are some others that might crack the Preview?

These four seed lines are, of course, just predictions. The selection committee has subtle shifts in its selection/seeding criteria every year that can be tough to foresee. This season could be even more challenging than usual due to COVID-19’s impact on the season.

These “others to watch” are not in order but rather grouped by the reasons why they could be included in the Bracket Preview.

Playing the numbers game: Colorado, USC

These two Pac-12 squads are metric darlings. Both rank in the Top 25 in every major metric and could crack their way into the Bracket Preview as a result. Neither has a great collection of elite wins but the Buffaloes are 7-3 in Q1+2 while the Trojans are 5-2. Those are good enough resumes to potentially warrant inclusion with the added bonus of their metrics.

Top tier wins: Purdue, Virginia Tech, Oklahoma

Purdue, Virginia Tech and Oklahoma each have two wins that fall under the Q1A category. Each of their abilities to win the “big” games could warrant consideration for the Top 16. Purdue swept Ohio State already; Virginia Tech has beaten Villanova and Virginia, and Oklahoma can brag about wins over Alabama and Texas. None of them are favorites to reach the Bracket Preview, though, due to most metrics falling outside of the Top 16 for each school.

Quad-2 kings: Florida State, Creighton

Neither Florida State (2) nor Creighton (3) has a ton of Q1 wins this season. But with solid overall metrics and dominant records in Quadrant 2 (FSU is 4-0, CU is 7-1), they could squeak their way into the Top 16. I think both are more likely to be deemed fringe No. 5-6 seeds right now, but you never know exactly what the committee will be prioritizing in a given year.

By just being Kansas: Kansas

Kansas is not expected to be a Top 4 seed on Saturday. In fact, I currently have the Jayhawks pegged as a No. 6 seed. But this is also Kansas that we are talking about. KU hasn’t looked great this season and is even trending down at the moment, but the program just doesn’t get low seeds. Kansas has both made the NCAA Tournament and received a No. 4 seed or better in 29 of the last 31 years. This includes each of Bill Self’s 17 years at the helm.

Biggest storyline? Monitor how Iowa and Missouri are seeded.

Both of these teams should hear their names called on Saturday but they could not have more different resumes. If the committee looks to value resume metrics this year (SOR, KPI), then Missouri will be higher whereas quality metrics (Sagarin, KenPom, BPI) would favor Iowa. How these two are seeded will tell us a lot about the selection criteria this year.

The Bracket Preview doesn’t always give many clues as to how the committee is going to handle bubble teams, but this might be the first year with such different resumes under Top 16 consideration. Several teams projected to be No. 8-12 seeds right now (bubble squads) will be eager to see how Mizzou and Iowa are handled as it could have a direct impact on just how other resumes are judged a month from now.

Rooting for Missouri to grab a favorable seed: St. Bonaventure, Xavier, VCU, Colorado State, Clemson, Western Kentucky, and Wichita State (among others).

Rooting for Iowa to grab a favorable seed: Loyola Chicago, San Diego State, Seton Hall, Indiana, Utah State, Oregon, and UConn (among others).

Lukas Harkins
Lukas Harkins

Heat Check CBB national writer, bracketologist



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